Archive for the ‘Food Glorious Food’ category

SwanShadow Gives Thanks 14: As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

November 23, 2017

Each year, since this humble (in the classic sense of “low to the ground”) blog began in 2004, I’ve paused on Thanksgiving Day to take stock of the many things in my life and in the world about me for which I’m grateful. If I took the honest measure of my blessings, I’d be typing nonstop between Thanksgivings, and I’d never get much life lived. (Plus, these posts would get even more unbearably lengthy than they already are.)

So I hit upon the idea of choosing just 26 items, sorted alphabetically, to represent by means of metonymy the countless people and things for which I am grateful.

It’s been an interesting year. The Pirate Queen began a new job, which she enjoys, and where she is appreciated and fulfilled. I landed one of my most daunting voiceover projects this summer, survived a hectic busy season with my largest client, and checked a box off my career bucket list by booking a gig for one of the most recognizable companies on the planet. We traveled a bit, as we are wont to do.

The Daughter hit a pair of milestones: she, like the Pirate Queen, began a new job — one that she’s been chasing hard for a few years — and she and her beloved (formerly The Boyfriend, now The Fiance) got engaged. They’ll be married next May, prompting yet another nomenclatural change. The Daughter is  thrilled to begin these new chapters in her life, and I am thrilled — with a father’s wistful trepidation — for her. She wishes her mother was here to share her joy. I wish that too. But as the old saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. So walk on, we shall.

2017 will be forever remembered in the North Bay as the Year of the Firestorm. If you live hereabouts, you know — and perhaps lived through — the devastating wildfires that destroyed thousands of structures across Sonoma and Napa counties. The Daughter and her Grandma were evacuated from their home for a week. Many longtime friends and acquaintances don’t have homes to which to return. The city of Santa Rosa and the other hard-hit communities will rebuild, but the lives that were lost will never be restored, and the precious possessions of thousands of people will never truly be replaced. I can’t put into words the sadness I feel for those I know — and so many others I don’t know — whose lives were irrevocably altered, even as I also can’t express my relief that my precious Daughter’s life was spared.

Walk on, we shall, indeed.

But enough preamble. Here’s the fourteenth installment of my annual Thanksgiving list. Next year, should we all live to see it, I’ll have to add a whole new table in the Word document where I keep track of each year’s offerings. (The chart is seven columns wide, and this will fill out the second chart.) For now, here’s what I’m grateful for… among so much else.

Almond butter. The Pirate Queen brought a jar home the other day from Trader Joe’s. In a world awhirl with chaos, the simple pleasure of an almond butter and blackberry jelly sandwich is an amazing comfort.

Blue Öyster Cult. This year on LearnedLeague (the world’s toughest online trivia league, and why haven’t you asked me for a referral yet?), I was privileged to write a quiz about a band whose music I’ve grokked since my high school days. (Yes, we had music then, you young punk. With electric guitars and everything.) I’ve still got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.

Cabo San Lucas. Neither the Pirate Queen nor I had ever been to Cabo before our weeklong vacation there in February. We enjoyed our stay immensely. It’s not Hawaii — this was the first year in the last five that we didn’t visit my childhood home — but it’s lovely nonetheless. We’ll return, no doubt.

Draymond Green. He may be the third or fourth best player on the Warriors. He might also be the most irreplaceable. No one plays defense at a more intense level than Money 23. The Daughter has a picture of herself with him from a photo op before he rose to NBA All-Stardom.

Electricity. Thank you, Ben Franklin. (I’m still annoyed about that $100 bill question from Millionaire, though. Just so you know.)

Firefighters and First Responders. They couldn’t save every home and storefront in the North Bay, but they worked tirelessly and valiantly to save as many as they could, and to rescue and help as many people as possible. The community will never forget their efforts and dedication.

Gal Gadot. As a lifelong fan of Diana of Themyscira, I wasn’t fully convinced when the little-known Israeli actress landed the role. I’m convinced now. I’m glad Gal is our Wonder Woman. Change our minds, and change the world.

Hamilton. We had the opportunity to see the smash hit musical in San Francisco this summer. We did not throw away our shot. Few popular entertainments live up to their hype, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece gets as close as you’d imagine.

Ice hockey. I know, I know. I’m the guy who refers to hockey as “soccer on ice with sticks.” But thanks to the largesse of a good friend who’s a San Jose Sharks season ticketholder, we saw our first in-person game last season. It really is a heck of a sport to watch in person, in ways that don’t translate well on television. I’m a believer.

Jetways. I’m old enough to remember… okay, slow down; not the Wright brothers — but the days when you actually had to walk out onto the tarmac and climb a mobile staircase in order to board a plane at many airports. Give me the stretchable hallway any day.

Kilimanjaro. She rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.

Linseed oil. Also called flaxseed oil, it’s the stuff that keeps the insides of my cast iron skillets silky smooth and nonstick. Liquid gold, it is.

Monet and Munch. We toured a pair of spectacular art exhibitions this year: Claude Monet: The Early Years at the Legion of Honor, and Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed at SFMOMA. In general, I’m not especially partial to Expressionist art, but seeing the work of these two great masters up close was powerfully impactful. I’m already looking forward to the next Monet exhibition here in two years.

NextDraft. Every day, I check in with several news sites and aggregators to keeptrack of what’s going on in this crazy world. Dave Pell’s NextDraft stands as one of the best curated aggregators I’ve come across. Dave skillfully mixes links to the day’s hard news with items that are merely fascinating. Always topical, always informative.

‘Oumuamua. “Strange visitor from another world” used to just mean Superman. Now, it’s the first object officially identified by astronomers as having traveled into our solar system from interstellar space. A cigar-shaped asteroid estimated at around 500 feet in length, its Hawaiian name means “scout” or “messenger.”

Patek Philippe. I narrated the first-ever full-scale North American exhibition by the world-renowned Swiss watchmaker this summer. In the process, I learned a ton about the craftspeople who design and build these incredible (and incredibly expensive) timepieces that can not only tell time, but in some instances play symphonies, display lunar cycles, and calculate dates hundreds of years into the future — all using mechanical, analog functionality. No microchip, no battery, just precision clockworks.

Quesadillas. Because hot, melty, delicious cheese.

Red Special, the one-of a kind guitar built by Brian May in his garage when he was a teenager, and which has lent its unique tone to Queen albums and concerts for more than four decades. I recently saw Brian wield his legendary axe in person for the first time in 35 years, and both guitar and guitarist amaze me still as much today as they did back then. If Brian and the Red Special had never given the world anything besides “Fat Bottomed Girls,” it would have been gift enough.

My Steel Will 1505, a.k.a. the Gekko, has featured as my everyday carry pocket knife for most of the past year. Solid, sturdy, and wicked sharp, with its maroon Micarta handle scales and black D2 steel blade, it’s both a workhorse and a creature of quiet beauty.

Thumbtack. The online service offers access to all kinds of local professionals, from electricians to mobile disc jockeys to personal trainers. Plus, they keep the Pirate Queen gainfully employed, for which we are enormously thankful.

“Unwritten”
Feel the rain on your skin.
No one else can feel it for you —
Only you can let it in.
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips.
Drench yourself in words unspoken;
Live your life with arms wide open;
Today is where your book begins —
The rest is still unwritten.

Vision. Last night, I stood on a BART train next to a blind man accompanied by his golden retriever guide dog. Even with my acute myopia and astigmatism — easily remedied by contact lenses — I am blessed that, unlike that unfortunate gentleman, I can open my eyes and see the world. Today, I’m not taking that for granted.

Women — and I have some wonderful ones in my life: the Pirate Queen, The Daughter, her Grandma, and more treasured friends and colleagues than I can list, along with the memory of KJ and the three decades we shared together. Our culture is currently awash with a tsunami of women finally feeling emboldened to speak out against the abuse, harassment, and disrespect they’ve experienced, and I applaud and support them. Be heard, sisters. Your voices matter.

XTC. Quirky, edgy, and impossible to categorize, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and company formed one of the most underrated bands in the history of pop music. “Generals and Majors,” “Senses Working Overtime,” “The Mayor of Simpleton,” and the controversial “Dear God” — even if you didn’t understand all of the ideas (or didn’t agree with them), you had to admire the style.

Yeast — fueling bakeries and breweries for thousands of years. Except during Passover.

Zapper — that’s what I call my racket-shaped electric wand that strikes fear into the hearts of flying pests that dare disturb the sanctity of my abode. I’m perfectly content to let buzzing bugs buzz outdoors in their own environment, as long as they don’t attack me. But if you come into my airspace, critter, I’ve got some voltage waiting for you.

And as always, friend reader, I’m grateful for you, and the time you take to peruse my rambling prose. May you and yours find much for which to be appreciative on this Thanksgiving Day.

 

 

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San Francisco Restaurant Resolution: Week Three — Town Hall

June 22, 2012

The third week of our eatery exploration (read this first if you missed the original premise) found us celebrating our first monthiversary at a restaurant called Town Hall. I thought this would be an appropriate location for a special celebration, because our first outing as an “official” couple — the first time the Pirate Queen introduced me as “the boyfriend” to people she knew — was a company holiday party a year and a half ago at San Francisco City Hall. Since I didn’t think Mayor Lee would let us set up a candlelit table in his lobby, Town Hall — which, as it happens, is nowhere near City Hall — seemed like the next best thing.

Town Hall is located in SOMA (that’s “South of Market,” for you out-of-towners) in a building that I suspect was once a factory or warehouse. Due to the entire interior surface of the restaurant being exposed brick and glass, sound reverberates through the dining room like a colossal echo chamber. Dinner at Town Hall is, for this reason, a little like eating next to a jet turbine running at full throttle. It may be the loudest place I’ve ever taken a meal where there wasn’t a baseball or basketball game being played. (The noise pollution on the night we visited was exacerbated by a tableful of testosterone-fueled yuppie businessman types whose conversational volume level betrayed the quantities of adult beverage they had consumed during their stay.)

Fortunately, the food kicks butt.

I started with an appetizer of barbecued shrimp, served in a decadent Worcestershire-based sauce that perfectly melded sweetness and sharpness. A pair of old rubber galoshes, grilled and covered with this sauce, would be awesome. The shrimp, tasty in and of themselves, were exquisite. I was glad that the Pirate Queen talked me out of my first choice, buttermilk biscuits accompanied by prosciutto and red pepper jelly. (But we’re going back to Town Hall, specifically for those biscuits.) The Pirate Queen kicked off the festivities with piquillo peppers stuffed with blue crab and cheese, which she described as outstanding.

For my entree, I chose the buttermilk fried chicken. Now, let’s be honest — the best fried chicken comes from your grandma’s stovetop, not a fine-dining kitchen. Most restaurants that serve fried chicken opt for either of two extremes: crispy but blandly flavored, or deliciously seasoned but mushy and greasy. Town Hall achieves that rare split up the middle — a crust that’s light and crunchy but also redolent with spices. The meat underneath was done to a turn while still moist and juicy. It wasn’t the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten, but it reminded me of that one, which is about as good as you can find. I’d have taken a bucket home if they’d let me. The Pirate Queen loved her main course of bacon-wrapped trout — she said that her favorite fish arrived perfectly cooked, and you know… bacon. (Quite a few dishes at Town Hall feature bacon. I’m not saying that as though it’s a bad thing.)

In addition to the cuisine, we gave high marks to our server, who made a couple of spot-on suggestions, and was attentive without being intrusive.

To reference an old proverb:  You can’t fight City Hall, but you can fight hunger at Town Hall. This superlative eatery nearly pegs the Uncle Swan ratings meter with a lofty four tailfeathers out of a possible five. I’d have given them four and a half, as the Pirate Queen suggested, but I feel compelled to dock half a tailfeather for the excruciating noise level. Still, Town Hall delivered the finest flavors we’ve sampled so far on our summer tour. It’s definitely cleared itself a spot on our “must go back” list.

You’ll find Town Hall at 342 Howard Street, South of Market in downtown San Francisco. It’s an easy two-block walk down Beale Street from the Embarcadero BART and MUNI station.

San Francisco Restaurant Resolution: Week Two — La Taqueria

June 12, 2012

For our second weekend of new-to-us restaurant exploration (read this first if you missed the original premise), the Pirate Queen chose what many diners consider the best place in The City to score authentic Mexican food. We needed a no-frills, hassle-free stop on our way out of town for a concert, and La Taqueria on Mission fit the bill.

La Taqueria: Best in the world? I think not.

The prosaically named La Taqueria frequently appears on lists of San Francisco’s tastiest budget-friendly eateries. Its carnitas taco ranks at #4 on 7×7’s 2012 Big Eat, the local magazine’s annual checklist of “100 Things to Eat Before You Die.” When you enter the restaurant, you’re greeted by an entire wall plastered with dining awards and honors, in addition to a blazing neon sign that boasts, “The Best Tacos and Burritos in the Whole World.” That’s a lofty standard for the Mission District, home to more taquerias than you can shake your sombrero at. So, we went in with high expectations. Did La Taqueria deliver?

Well… sort of.

The Pirate Queen ordered two tacos, one filled with carne asada and one with chorizo. I mixed things up differently, pairing a carne asada burrito with the highly touted carnitas taco. We shared a basket of chips mounded with the house salsa. All five of our items proved delicious. The meats were uniformly well-cooked, tender, and flavorful. The beans in my burrito were nicely seasoned and boiled whole rather than refried. The chips offered good solid crunch, and the salsa accompanying them tasted fresh and bright.

But I kept looking at that sign, and asking myself, “Is this really the best taco and burrito in the whole world?” Bite after bite, the answer came back, “Not so much.”

Tacos at La Taqueria

I’m not even sure that La Taqueria serves the best tacos and burritos in the Mission, much less the entire planet. They’re good, yes, but not exceptional. In fact, the last burrito I ate in the neighborhood, at El Toro (on Valencia, between 16th and 17th Streets), was at least the equal of my La Taqueria example, and might have been just a skosh better. It was certainly bigger, and perhaps better value for the money. That’s one of the challenges at La Taqueria. Unlike most of their Mission competitors, they only make burritos in a single modest size, which pales in comparison to the deluxe and super options at other taquerias. If you have a decent-sized appetite, you’ll need to add at least an extra taco to your order so you don’t walk away still hungry.

The quality of the fare at La Taqueria is unquestionably high. Little complaints bugged me, though. Both the carnitas and the carne asada contained far too much juice for the amount of meat. While I have no issue with moist meat as opposed to the dry and tough variety, an overabundance of liquid results in limp tortillas and an overall soggy finished product. My burrito and taco both proved too waterlogged to be consumed out of hand, leaving me to poke into them with a flimsy plastic fork. That’s not my ideal taco- or burrito-eating experience.

I had a similar issue with the chips-and-salsa combination. There was absolutely nothing wrong with either element on its own. (I prefer a lighter, less dense tortilla chip, but that’s strictly an individual aesthetic.) However, I’d rather have my salsa served in a separate container, so that I can apply it to individual chips as I dine, thus maintaining chip integrity. La Taqueria dumps the salsa on top of the chips like cheese on a bad ballpark nacho, and achieves the same unfortunate effect — sodden chips that are both difficult to handle and less than pleasant to eat, tasty though they might be.

Chips and salsa at La Taqueria

As taquerias go, La Taqueria provides a better than average atmosphere for your culinary pleasure. The walls of the funky dining area are festooned with posters from old Mexican films. I got a chuckle from the visual pun created by the poster for a movie entitled “A.T.M.” mounted immediately above the ATM. The furnishings are simple yet comfortable, and there’s patio seating out front if you care to watch vagrants meandering by as you nosh. Counter service was efficient, if not particularly engaging. Once we placed our order, food was dispensed with lightning quickness.

Clearly, thousands of folks — many of whom paraded in and out of the restaurant during our dining hour — hold La Taqueria in much higher esteem. All of the points I make above are subjective. I certainly enjoyed the flavors of my repast at La Taqueria, and I wouldn’t mind eating there again. With so much nearby competition for my Mexican cuisine dollars, though, I’m sure that I’ll probably find my way into several other joints in the Mission before I circle back around to this one.

On the Uncle Swan scale, La Taqueria rates three tailfeathers out of a possible five. The Pirate Queen, less easily impressed than I, lobbied for two and a half, but I’m in a generous mood. You could certainly do far worse than this if your tastebuds are in a Mexican frame of mind, but I’m equally certain that you could do better, too. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to check that carnitas taco off your bucket list.

You’ll find La Taqueria at 2889 Mission Street (between 24th and 25th Streets) in San Francisco.

San Francisco Restaurant Resolution: Week One — Bissap Baobab

June 4, 2012

Shortly before our wedding, the Pirate Queen and I discussed measures we could take to maintain the fun and newness of our courtship as we entered our Spousal Unit phase. (Frankly, we feared falling into a rut over time, as many couples do.) We thought about the activities we most enjoyed together as we were dating, one of which was exploring interesting new dining options. Given that we’re fortunate to live in one of the greatest foodie destinations in the world, there’s no reason to confine ourselves to the same old joints… as excellent as some of those old joints may be.

So, we made a pact: Every weekend between now and Labor Day, we’ll challenge our palates with a San Francisco restaurant that neither of us has patronized previously. By the end of the summer, we’ll have discovered at least fourteen new places to eat — some of which, we hope, might work themselves into our list of go-to spots.

This past weekend, we began our culinary journey at Bissap Baobab, a Senegalese restaurant in the Mission. (The signage on the building reads “Little Baobab.” Apparently, the restaurant under that name merged with another establishment nearby, called Bissap. If you look for reviews on Yelp, either the old name or the new will get you to the correct page.) Although both the Pirate Queen and I have traveled — and dined — internationally, neither of us had sampled Senegalese cuisine. Truth to tell, before arriving at Bissap Baobab, I wasn’t aware that Senegal had its own unique cuisine. But then, that’s one reason we’re undertaking this experiment — to learn about unfamiliar cuisines.

As it turns out, those Senegalese know a thing or two about food. We began our repast with two appetizers: aloko (fried plantains accompanied by a tangy yogurt-based sauce), and prawns swathed in a spicy red curry. I liked the plantains more than did the Pirate Queen — as you’ll doubtless deduce as you read this and future posts on this topic, she’s not partial to sweets — but we both agreed that the curry prawns were a hit. The sauce was pungent, but not overly intense, and with surprising levels of flavor. The shrimp themselves were slightly overdone, but not rubbery. (Shrimp may be the most difficult protein to cook perfectly. No, I take that back — octopus and squid are even trickier.)

The Bissap Baobab menu includes only five or six entrees, most of which consist of a basic sauce to which a selection of meats (or tofu, for you vegetarian types) can be added. Depending on the sauce, the meat options range from lamb or chicken to fish (tilapia, mostly) or prawns. All entrees can be accompanied with either rice or couscous. The Pirate Queen chose the yassa (a rich, mustard and onion-based sauce) with lamb, and enjoyed it thoroughly. My entree, called coco, consisted of a tilapia fillet grilled on skewers, then layered with a slightly sweet coconut-onion sauce and sliced potatoes. The fish was expertly cooked, and the well-balanced sauce made a perfect match.

We found the flavor profiles surprising and memorable. I expected something similar to either Moroccan or Ethiopian cuisine — two styles of cooking with which I’m quite familiar. Instead, Bissap Baobab’s food reminded me more of both Caribbean (which made sense, given the West African heritage of many Caribbean residents) and Indian cuisine, the latter of which came out of left field. The unique combination of spices, aromatics, and other ingredients is distinctive and very appealing, and I’ll look forward to other opportunities to expand my connection with this wonderful regional style.

As for the restaurant experience beyond the food itself: Like many restaurants here in The City, Bissap Baobab suffers from complications of space, or lack thereof. We were shoehorned into a corner in which our table wedged cheek-by-jowl with three other small tables, two of which were occupied by other diners. The staff, to their credit, figured out quickly that the arrangement was too cramped, and removed the unoccupied table to create breathing room between the three that remained. Aside from this minor snafu, we enjoyed our visit. Our waitperson offered friendly, helpful explanations of both the dishes and the drink menu, and answered all of our questions with a smile. Food arrived at our table with reasonable promptness, though we did have to wait a stretch to settle our check at the end of the meal. The interior of the space is decorated with bright, hand-painted murals that lend the ambiance a vibrant energy.

Uncle Swan gives Bissap Baobab a solid three-and-one-half tailfeathers out of a possible five. If you’d like to try a regional cuisine that offers some savory surprises, check out the Senegalese fare at Bissap Baobab the next time you cruise the Mission. (A bit of trivia: Bissap is the hibiscus flower; baobab is a fruit tree also called monkey bread.)

You’ll find Bissap Baobab at 3388 19th Street (between Mission and Capp) in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood.

Just a guy named Joe

August 31, 2010

I went shopping at Trader Joe’s this afternoon.

Now, I realize that doesn’t sound especially momentous. This was, however, the first time I’d darkened the doorstep of a Trader Joe’s in a good eight years — since my corporate days, when I worked a mere two blocks from the local TJ’s and dropped in there frequently. My new life in self-employment keeping me chained to my desk at home most of the time, and with the home of the “Fearless Flyer” being now more than a little out of my way, TJ’s and I have drifted apart.

But not today.

A shiny new Trader Joe’s opened in Santa Rosa a while back, right around the corner from my favorite Hawaiian barbecue joint — which, as fate would have it, has been closed ever since some nutcase drove his car through the front of the restaurant. With the news of the recent death of Trader Joe’s reclusive German owner, Theo Albrecht, fresh in my mind, and with a few hours of free time on my hands, I decided to venture in and check out the goods.

For the benefit of those of you unfortunate enough to live out of range of a Trader Joe’s, I’ll explain what I’m talking about. Trader Joe’s is a chain of specialty markets that’s big here in California. Originally a group of convenience stores, Trader Joe’s changed its image in the late 1960s, adopting a Polynesian motif and stocking select products sold mostly under its house brand names. (These often riff on the ethnicity of the comestibles in question — my chicken quesadillas, for example, bore the moniker “Trader Jose’s.”) Unlike a conventional supermarket, where you can buy practically anything your stomach desires, Trader Joe’s focuses on a narrow blend of gourmet and organic foods and household products. The store caters to a niche clientele including foodies, aging hippies, and bargain hunters.

Eschewing big-budget advertising, Trader Joe’s mostly draws customers in via its “Fearless Flyer,” a multipage direct-mail circular printed on cheap paper and featuring cartoons in the style of Victorian-era illustration. The store’s merchandise profile changes constantly — you learn never to get hooked on a Trader Joe’s item, because they’ll stop selling it the moment you do — but often includes unique products (especially seafood and frozen entrees) you’d never find anywhere else. Because almost all of the product line is branded in-house, TJ’s “cuts out the middleman” and frequently offers surprisingly good value for such an upscale retailer.

I strolled into the shiny new-ish TJ’s today with few expectations. I ended up needing a second handbasket to carry all of the stuff I lugged to the cash register, where a stone-faced college student in an aloha shirt (that’s part of the TJ’s vibe — all of the employees wear colorful Hawaiian shirts, and summon one another to the registers not with an intercom, but with a hand bell) totaled and bagged my purchases. I came away with frozen dinner items to feed myself for the next week, a few snacks, two cans of whole bean coffee, and a box of vanilla almond granola (quite tasty — I’m eating a bowl as I type).

The store was brightly lit and cheery, if rather spartan in decor — another Trader Joe’s trademark — and everyone, both staff and shoppers, seemed happy to be there. (Everyone, that is, except my cashier, whose personality made the prosaic bag of raw almonds I bought seem lively by comparison.) I know I was.

Thanks, Trader Joe.

Life isn’t (the county) fair

August 3, 2009

Tonight, our little family — although no group can accurately be described as “little” if I’m in it — made our annual pilgrimage to the Sonoma County Fair.

The event musters less cachet every year. Our daughter is long since old enough to go to the fair on her own, with her friends, and generally doesn’t need the ‘rents tagging along. My wife now needs a wheelchair to cover the expansive fairground distances, and thus doesn’t get to see everything as closely or conveniently as she once did. And every year, the selection of vendors grows more sparse and the exhibits less compelling.

But still, it’s our tradition. So we go. And we always have a nice time.

I mostly go to the fair to watch people, and to eat. The latter grows increasingly challenging. Many of the vendors whose offerings I once enjoyed no longer appear — where have you gone, Richardson’s Ribs? — and those who do seldom rise to the level of true county fair greatness. This year, KJ’s favorite Mexican cuisine stand — the home of the legendary soft tacos that she waited all summer to nosh —  was a no-show. She contented herself with a child’s plate of spaghetti from the Pasta King instead. I settled for a platter of fried seafood, which was decent enough, but nothing like the calamari that another vendor used to serve. That purveyor, too, is gone.

Even the venerable cinnamon roll concession, for decades a staple of the main pavilion, got shunted outside to an unfamiliar location this year. I tell you, there’s just no respect for history any more.

I did savor a pleasant enough quaff of draft cream soda from a vendor I’d not seen at previous fairs. The cowboy-costumed barkeep drew my drink in a colorful keepsake tin cup, which may come in handy someday if I fill it with pencils and stand on a busy street corner.

We trekked what seemed like a half-marathon out to the fairgrounds’ back forty to check out the Budweiser Clydesdales. Why bother to bring in such a crowd-pleasing attraction if you’re going to hide it in an obscure cranny where the crowds may never find it? Even a fair employee whom we stopped for directions was momentarily stumped by the question of where the Clydesdales were. (I’m not entirely certain she even knew what a Clydesdale was.)

The Hall of Flowers held its own. The theme this year was “The Land Before Time,” which mostly involved every floral designer sticking an incongruous plastic dinosaur or two into his or her display. The overall decoration looked good, though, and a few of the designers added exotic touches like colored waterfalls or volcanoes in an effort to make the scene vaguely Cretaceous.

I saw no one hawking anything in the main pavilion that I couldn’t live without. I managed to resist the siren call of kitchen gadgets, gaudy neckties, hot tubs (why do they always sell hot tubs? who goes to the fair looking to score a four-seat Jacuzzi for the back patio?) and the ubiquitous Sham-Wow. I almost succumbed to a sudden jones for cleaning products, but just couldn’t pull the trigger.

My daughter KM paused to let me take her photo with the lifesize cutout of President Obama at the Democratic Party booth. We noted that, as custom dictated, the Dems and the Repubs again occupied spaces on opposite sides of the hall. (Some things never change.) It might actually spark the proceedings a trifle if the organizers stationed the two parties in adjacent stalls. Perhaps mayhem would ensue.

Given the current state of our county fair, a little mayhem might be just what it needs.

Happy Bastilla Day!

July 14, 2009

If you happen to be in France as you read this, happy Bastille Day.

Only the French would think it a good idea to have a national holiday honoring a prison. I doubt that one could muster much enthusiasm on these shores for, say, San Quentin Day.

Seeing that Bastille Day is a tough sell, I’m proposing an alternative: Bastilla Day.

Sweet, savory Moroccan pie stuffed with chicken, eggs, and almonds, dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar… who couldn’t get behind that?